It's just another Sunday at Spackle's Roller Rink for Calliope Day and her best friend, Noreen Catherwood. Until Calliope discovers the red love poem someone has stuck in Noreen's pistachio ice cream. Calliope is intrigued-who is this mystery poet? His humor reminds her of her father, who died of cancer. Can there really be a boy out there like him? This is a boy she'd like to meet. But why is he sending love poems to Noreen and not to her? She was named for a Greek muse after all! If anyone can find out the mystery poet's identity, it's Calliope. She quickly narrows her suspects down to two boys. But it turns out there's more than one mystery poet. And plenty of poetry to go around.
From the Hardcover Library Binding edition.
Read an Excerpt
Calliope Day wasn't fooled by Rodney's greasy tweed jacket and lopsided bow tie. She knew he was no gentleman. That's why she eyed him as he kept glancing over his shoulder at her.
It was a wintry Sunday afternoon in late March and Spackle's indoor roller rink throbbed with shouting, skating, shoving kids. Calliope glided hand in hand with her best friend, Noreen Catherwood.
Ahead of Calliope and Noreen skated Rodney. Again he glanced back at his fourth-grade classmates.
What is he up to? Calliope wondered as she wobbled along in white skates scuffed nearly black from a winter of hard use.
Noreen's black skates, on the other hand, still shone as if brand-new. Calliope suspected that Noreen let her maid, Louisa, polish them every Saturday night. It looked like Louisa had also ironed Noreen's white blouse, which stood erect, as if at attention. And, while she was at it, maybe Louisa had ironed Noreen's ponytail as well. Not a hair strayed from the black ribbon that pulled back Noreen's brown hair. In its rigid perfection, the ponytail was a tempting target. What boy wouldn't want to give it a good yank? Was that what Rodney had in mind?
Rodney had given up any pretense of stealth and now stared directly at Calliope and Noreen. Calliope squeezed her friend's hand to reassure her. But, truth be told, Calliope needed reassuring as much as Noreen needed Calliope. After a winter of Sundays at the skating rink, Calliope had learned she was better at falling down than circling around and around. There wasn't a tree in South Orange or Maplewood she couldn't monkey up in her bright red Keds. Yet in skates she careened into the rink'slow wall and toppled over when trying to stop. Yes, it was better to skate clutching Noreen's hand.
That seemed especially true now, given that Rodney was chuckling to himself as if enjoying a private joke, probably at Calliope's expense. He had been tormenting her since kindergarten.
Calliope couldn't understand why Rodney hated her so much. They had so much in common! They both lived in the same neighborhood of simple houses in the shadowed valley of South Mountain. And, as the youngest in their families, they were both tormented by older brothers.
Rodney peeled away from the line of skaters circling the rink, and looped into the empty space in the middle.
Calliope wondered if Noreen noticed Rodney's troubling shift in behavior. She glanced at her friend. Sharp nose raised ever so slightly, Noreen gazed ahead and smiled faintly as if bemused by the picture of herself mingling with kids whose parents had to drive their own cars.
Noreen, of course, traveled to and from the roller rink and Indian Trail Elementary School in a red chauffeured Mercedes the size of a small school bus. Did Rodney know this? Calliope doubted it, given the blackened windows of the Mercedes. You could see just fine out of those windows, but no one could see in. Calliope knew. Not only had she ridden in the Mercedes, but she had been to Noreen's castle of a house perched high atop South Mountain.
Out of all the kids at school, rich and poor, brainy and boneheaded, Noreen had anointed Calliope as her best--and as far as Calliope could tell, only--friend. It was a friendship that left kids and teachers chewing the eraser ends of their No. 2 pencils in befuddlement. Even Calliope didn't quite get it.
Here We Go Again
Rodney was eyeing them with a devilish smile. He'd now looped around to face Calliope and Noreen and then dropped to a crouch. The better, apparently, to gather the speed to knock them over like a couple of bowling pins.
Calliope couldn't skate well enough, especially with Noreen in hand, to weave out of the circling line and make a clean escape.
That left only one defense: shrieking. And any girl who heard another one shrieking felt obliged to join in. So if Calliope could shriek loud enough to attract the attention of the other girls in the rink, she just might repel the oncoming Rodney.
Calliope gulped a chestful of air, threw back her head and let loose. Her throat vibrated like the strings of a guitar. Calliope imagined that her shriek was rattling the crystal ball dangling over the rink.
But that was just in Calliope's imagination. In fact, the din of creaking wheels and giggling kids swallowed up her call for help. No girls rallied to her defense, save one. Noreen turned, forehead wrinkled with irritation, to glare at Calliope. Then she saw Rodney and began to shriek, too.
Their shrieking made Calliope's ears ring but it didn't seem to faze Rodney. On he raced, head down and grinning.
Calliope couldn't bear to watch another moment. She threw up her hands, never letting go of Noreen. A veil of fingers hid Rodney from view but Calliope could still smell him. Her nostrils twitched from a whiff of his sweaty tweed. And then his elbow clipped her on the hip. Calliope spun around, spinning Noreen with her. Thankfully neither of them fell--this time.
"Watch it, Rodney!" Calliope yelled. She watched as Rodney gracefully skated away without bumping a single skater. On the other side of the rink Rodney stopped, grinning.
If Rodney had meant to impress Calliope or Noreen, he'd failed. Noreen narrowed her eyes in a withering look that could have silenced a laughing hyena.
But Noreen's disapproval did not deter Rodney. In fact, it seemed to egg him on. Again and again he whizzed through the other skaters to hit Calliope just enough to spin her. It was as if he was trying to knock Calliope free of Noreen. But Calliope held Noreen's hand even tighter, as the two of them spun around and around. Noreen's face had turned a sickly green and Calliope was so dizzy now that one more bump would surely topple her.
Calliope seriously considered just throwing herself down on the rink floor and getting it over with. What stopped her from such a humiliating surrender was a most unusual sight. Careening in front of her was Kevin Jefferson, boy brainiac of the fourth grade. Calliope had never seen him at the rink before. And it didn't look like Kevin had skated much. In fact it looked like he had never skated at all. His arms windmilled as if trying to reverse direction, and his mouth was shaped in the O of a silent cry.
Kevin might have been the worst skater Calliope had ever seen, but she was still glad to see him. That was because Kevin veered into Rodney's path.
Rodney and Kevin went down in a tangle of arms and skates.
Calliope and Noreen didn't linger to savor Rodney's takedown. Hand in hand, the two of them stumbled out of the line of skaters. Walking, however awkward, seemed safer than trying to skate away. In the rink's adjoining cafeteria, the girls stopped and hugged. "Boys!" wheezed Noreen.
Calliope couldn't agree more. She'd come to regard boys as you would stray dogs. Some boys looked friendly enough from afar but you'd learned that, not only might they bite, you never knew when that bite would come. And you rarely knew why they bit.
Calliope eyed the bustling cafeteria, crowded with rolling boys with wandering eyes and idle hands. Who among them would lunge for Noreen's ponytail next?